Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

flag flower bed

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Princeton, MAINE USA

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Barbara’s Tale

With help from flower essences, a wounded Asian elephant found her trumpet in the hills of Tennessee.


Co-founder and operations director Scott Blais

serves flower essence to Winkie, September 2000

Photo: Carol Buckley, The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee

What do you do keep an elephant from dying of sadness?

That’s what Carol Buckley and her associates were up against when they met Barbara in 1997. This 31 year old Asian elephant had been kidnapped at age 2, then sold to an American circus to do a few dumb tricks and spend 18 hours a day chained in a stall.

“At fourteen years of age Barbara and the other elephants were retired to a breeding farm in Florida. During this time Barbara began to lose weight,” though the vets couldn’t explain why. “Barbara suffered with this weight loss condition for the next twelve years, ultimately losing a total of 2000 pounds. Several baby elephants were born during this time, but none to Barbara.”

In 1997, Barbara had the good fortune to come onto The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee. Sanctuary director Carol Buckley, seeing Barbara’s pitiful condition, called in Sharon Callahan, an expert in flower essences who works intensively with non-human animals. Sharon and the Sanctuary staff began administering floral tinctures to Barbara and other elephants on the farm.

imageRed Clover

Photo: all in one

First they gave the animals a formula of “Star of Bethlehem, Morning Glory, Comfrey, Arnica, Fringed Violet and St. John’s Wort,” with a shot of red clover—a tincture for traumatized creatures. Other floral remedies followed.

Carol Buckley said that “after the first treatment, all three elephants would open their mouths and stick out their tongues” when she approached with the essence bottles. Buckley goes on to tell us: “We have used flower essences for nearly 10 years and the results are consistent and astonishing. They do work in not so subtle ways.”

If, like us, you tend toward skepticism, shake that off long enough to read Barbara’s tale, to hear how a barren and emaciated elephant trumpeted for the first time March 1, 1997. If nothing else, you’ll get your first chance to see an elephant in a Patagonia parka.

The full subject of flower essences lies well beyond our range of expertise, or even concerted experimentation. Herbalism in general, of course, has been a pancultural approach to healing since ancient times, but flower essences were popularized only in the 1930s, by an English physician named Dr. Edward Bach.

“Disease will never be cured or eradicated by present materialistic methods,” Bach wrote, “for the simple reason that disease in its origin is not material . . . Disease is in essence the result of conflict between the Soul and Mind and will never be eradicated except by spiritual and mental effort.” For Bach, this effort came into focus through tinctures of flowers.

As we understand it, flower essences are believed to revitalize personality, whether human or elephant. One account says that after taking in the essence of certain flowers, “the patient would easily shake off his fears and worries, and with them the disease from which his body suffered.”

imageBarbara enjoys a spray

Photo: Carol Buckley

The Elephant Sanctuary

Hohenwald, Tennessee

Dubious? Consider this report that 16 hospitals across Australia now use such remedies.

Then consider Barbara. She died May 18, 2001. And we have every reason, floral and otherwise, to believe she was restored to happiness in her last five years, down on the farm in Tennessee.

(Carol Buckley writes that elephants enjoy eating some flowers, too, “A favorite is the large purple flower on top of the thistle weed.”)

Posted by Julie on 03/04 at 10:24 PM

Friday, March 03, 2006

Quaresmeira—Purple for Lent

Lent is a season of deprivation, but a Brazilian tree can’t be deterred from exuberance.


Blossom of Tibouchina granulosa

Photo: Forest and Kim Starr

With Ash Wednesday, most Christian denominations enter a season of self-imposed discipline. During Lent, parishioners turn inward, surrendering distractions and pleasures in the spirit of Christ’s suffering and death.

In many churches the altar is stripped of flowers for the Lenten season and draped with purple, in a sombre mood. (Many of the cofradias or religious brotherhoods of Latin America favor cassocks of purple, to convey dignity and mourning—also royalty.) We found quite a number of parishes in the U.S. are quite explicit about forbidding flowers—for example, this Catholic church in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania and this Episcopal parish in Arlington, Virginia.

imageA Lenten service

(purple vestments and no flowers)

in Atlanta, Georgia

Photo: St. John’s Lutheran Church

The Church of the Ascension in Pittsburgh, as others, finds some botanical wiggle-room. “Some people have wondered why we have greens on the altars in Lent.” (The Episcopalians are known—both favorably and disparagingly—for their powers of compromise.) “Greens are a half-way place between those who insist the altars should be bare in Lent, and those who believe we should have flowers in Lent. Interestingly, the greens actually cost as much as flowers.”

imageLenten procession

(everyone in purple)

from the Church of San Bartolo, Antigua, Guatemala, 2000

Photo: Vince Lindgren

We have found, however, a much lovelier accommodation in Brazil: the quaresmeira or Lent-season tree. Tibouchina granulosa, native to both Brazil and Bolivia, is one of the largest of the tibouchina genus, growing 16 to 40 feet tall.

And fittingly, it’s crowned with rich purple blooms each year during Lent. (Thanks to Elizabeth Wynne-Jones of Rio de Janeiro for guiding us to this wonder of the Brazilian spring.)

We’re uncertain whether the blooms are actually cut and arranged on altars during Lent or just secretly enjoyed—an outdoor delight during these weeks of public penitence.  May our friends in Brazil once more enlighten us.


Tibouchina granulosa (a.k.a. quaresma and quaresmeira)

Photo: Arvores Brasil

Tibouchina apparently likes the Australian coastal climate. A small variety known as glory bush is a possibility in zones 9-10 of the U.S, though, fittingly, some tenacity may be required: “It has been our experience Tibouchina can be difficult to establish.  After planting, they may seem to lack the will to grow for a season or two, but then suddenly take off.  After that, Tibouchina is easy.”

Can penitence be beautiful? Several centuries of icon painters were sure of it. And the purple quaresmeira makes us certain of it, too.

Posted by Julie on 03/03 at 11:41 AM
Culture & SocietyGardening & LandscapeReligious RitualsPermalink

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Hawaiian Anthuriums: Get Well Soon

Hawaii’s major cut-flower—a weirdo—staggers back into full production after a 10+ year battle with blight.

imageAnthurium andreanum

Photo: Dr. Paul M. Resslar

What looks like a plastic clown mask and appears, sometimes, in funeral sprays?

Anthurium. More than 600 varieties of this peculiar “flower” (the showy part of this plant is actually the spathe) grow in the higher elevations of South and Central America. With apologies for our stodginess, we find it a garish thing, not really flowerlike at all. The texture, especially of “blistered” varieties, seems halfway between Mylar and rubber. Who wants blisters, on their fingers or their flowers?

As we recoil, we also champion floral diversity and—as if opinions mattered—a panoply of taste. So we were dismayed to learn that the odd anthurium has suffered a huge setback in Hawaii due to disease. Anthuriums were introduced here in the 1890s, and grown by small farmers, especially on the Big Island, for sale to local flower shops through the 1940s. Starting in the ‘50s, more intensive commercial production began and thirty years later, anthuriums had become Hawaii’s top-selling export flower. 

imageAnthurium blight attacks a spathe

Photo: T. Vowell

This excellent article, by several scientists who’ve been working to eradicate the blight, gives a history of the plant’s advances and vicissitudes:

“The industry reached its peak in 1980, supplying local, national, and international markets with up to 232,000 dozen flowers per month. Although yield was at 2.5 million dozen flowers in 1980, supply was insufficient to meet demand.” By 1990 anthurium production had dropped by half.

A bacteria—Xanthomonas axonopodis pv. dieffenbachiae—was first detected in these plants in Kauai in 1971. By the late ‘80s, more than 200 farms in and near Hilo on the Big Island had lost everything.

Anne Alvarez and others from the University of Hawaii have been taking a manifold approach to the disease. Early on, horticulturists thought that removing infested or sick plants and disinfecting cutting tools would eradicate the problem. It didn’t. Now, plant specialists advocate going to much greater lengths—even recommending a ” triple indexing protocol” to insure that budding plantlets are disease free. Other approaches include drip irrigation, chemical sprays, biological controls, and a shift to new, more resistant cultivars (crossing the less spectacular A. antioquense with A. andraeanum, “the clown”).

imageThe Hilo Farmers Market

Photo: Ma’ona

For more on Hawaiian anthuriums, this blog offers a lovely tour of the Hilo Farmers Market, with flowers in profusion. (According to this interesting article by Ron Staton, the Hilo Farmers Market was the first in the nation to accept food stamps—just for food, not for flowers.)

Here you may visit an anthurium farm or, should you be in a wearier, more introspective mood, consider an affirmation/meditation that involves focusing on a wild anthurium in bloom and this mantra: “I transform my energy bodies for the New Reality.”

Come to think of it, anthurium does make a rather nice emblem for “the New Reality.”


Anthurium Quilt, by Phyllis Hirata, designed by John Serrao

Image: Hawaiian Quilting

We got there via another route: this amazing work by Hawaiian master quilter Phyllis Hirata. Applique presents a completely new outlook on “blisters.” Hirata’s needle following Serrao’s design has discovered a pulse we never felt before from this tropical oddity.

Posted by Julie on 03/02 at 11:01 AM
Art & MediaCut-Flower TradeScienceTravelPermalink
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